What different attitudes toward the ritual are presented by the various characters in "The Lottery"?

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mizzwillie's profile pic

mizzwillie | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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In the short story, "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson, several different attitudes towards the ritual appear with different characters in the story.  Both Mr. and Mrs. Adams express doubt about the ritual, remarking that other villages have either given up the ritual or are thinking of giving it up.  Mrs. Delacroix speaks pleasantly to Tessie Hutchinson and tells her to "Be a good sport, Tessie";  however, she is one of the most enthusiastic people to stone Tessie illustrating the dichotomy of pleasant conversation and the evil of killing.  The younger children play in the square indifferent to the adults and their worries.  Janey Dunbar is reluctant to stone Tessie, saying that she will catch up later leaving the reader to hope that the lottery will lose favor in the future.  Mr. Hutchinson, Tessie's husband, forces the slip of paper with the black mark on it to be seen by the crowd, showing his acceptance of tradition and his control over Tessie.  Old Man Warner represents the old order and is enthusiastic in his support of the ritual stoning.  Tessie, when saying that it isn't fair, is one of the few voices against the ritual of stoning a person to death each year. 

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cneukam1379's profile pic

cneukam1379 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

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In the beginning of the story, the children appear to understand the solemnity of the ritual because they enter the square quietly, but really, this ritual is a game to them: "Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones." Otherwise, the children are more concerned with childish things—school and play.

The men enter the square solemnly as well, but they also seem to connect the ritual to their crops, for they enter "speaking of planting and rain, tractors and taxes." Yet they also appear not to relish this ritual like the children, for they "stood together, away from the pile of stones in the corner, and their jokes were quiet and they smiled rather than laughed."

When the women enter the square, no indication is really given about their attitudes, but they follow the lead of their husbands and keep their children in line, following the rules of the ritual.

In the end, all of the villagers are just glad it was not their turn to be stoned, and they ask Tessie Hutchinson to simply do her part and take the stoning.